Onekama on doorstep of title game

Onekama’s Taylor Bennett will look to help the Portagers reach the 8-player Division 2 state championship in their semifinal game against Portland Saint Patrick at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Onekama. (Kyle Kotecki/News Advocate)

Onekama’s Taylor Bennett will look to help the Portagers reach the 8-player Division 2 state championship in their semifinal game against Portland Saint Patrick at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Onekama. (Kyle Kotecki/News Advocate)

Portagers to host Shamrocks in state semifinal on Saturday

Onekama football is just one win away from a trip to the Superior Dome in Marquette to compete for the 8-player Division 2 state championship. Standing in the Portagers’ way is Portland Saint Patrick, a team Onekama will face at home in a state semifinal matchup Saturday.

Onekama football coach John Neph made the nearly three-hour journey to watch Saint Patrick’s game against Tekonsha this past Saturday and knows the Portagers will have their hands full come kickoff.

“Portland Saint Patrick was in the state finals last year, so they’ve got playoff experience,” Neph said. “I was able to go down and see them play on Saturday and they’ve got some offensive weapons that are very concerning to us. And their defense is fast and really runs to the football.

“They have an outstanding tradition and they have a really good football team again this year.”

The Shamrocks eked out a playoff berth with a regular season record of 5-4, but play in a tough conference and have been looking strong in the postseason. Saint Patrick recorded a 33-6 win over Peck and a 20-6 victory over Tekonsha in the playoffs thus far to set them up for the game against the Portagers.

With the Shamrocks only allowing 12 points through two playoff games, Neph hopes his offense that played so well last week against Brethren will be able to maintain its form heading into Saturday’s contest.

“We have to take care of our assignments, take care of the football and make sure that we control things that we can control,” Neph said. “Then, we’ll adjust to things that come up during the game, but it’s quite a challenge for us. They’ve got a lot of really good defensive players and we’re going to have to play a really good game to get some points on the board.”

Onekama has been stingy defensively, too, with a 22-6 win over Marion and defeating Brethren 52-0.

“The coaching staff is just trying to put guys in the right position and then let them loose,” Neph said. “Our guys really take pride in playing great defense. They want to keep getting better. We know we’re not perfect, so they keep trying to get better and better. When mistakes happen we want to recover as fast as possible and help each other out.”

The Shamrocks have a well-balanced offense and should look to attack both through the air and on the ground.

“Portland Saint Pat’s has a lot of different things they can do,” Neph said. “They have a really good quarterback who can throw the ball all over the field. That’s how they scored on Tekonsha — a couple long passes.

“And they have a really good running game led by Ned Smith,” he continued. “He’s a very tough running back — tough to bring down. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get ready.”

Last season, the Shamrocks fell in the state championship game 54-12 to Crystal Falls Forest Park.

It’s a fun time to be a Portager, and players and coaching staff alike are enjoying this historic season.

“The morale is fantastic,” Neph said. “The guys are excited. I’m real happy with how we’ve played so far in the playoff season, and in the regular season. They’re real excited. They keep showing up to practice with a really good attitude.”

With last week’s win over Brethren, the Portagers already have the most successful postseason in program history. However, the team is not content with just a regional title.

“We would be so proud to represent our community and our school and all of our families (in the state finals),” Neph said. “It just means a great deal to the young men and to the coaching staff.

“We’re real excited and we want to do our best and keep everything moving forward,” he continued. “It would mean a lot to us. It would be an incredible amount of pride and satisfaction if we were able to win Saturday.”

The game kicks off at Onekama Saturday at 1 p.m.

Leave a Reply